Doctor Nifemi Bella Oloniniyi (M.D, MPh), is one of the healthcare professionals battling the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic from the frontlines at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Yaba, Lagos.

With 158 confirmed cases (from the nation’s current total of 288), 114 active cases, 39 recoveries and 3 deaths at the time of writing, Nigeria’s most populous city of Lagos is the epicenter or ‘Ground Zero’ of the nation’s Covid-19 battle.

Nigeria’s index Covid-19 patient was also diagnosed with the respiratory disease in Lagos on February 27, 2020.

We had a chat with Dr. Nifemi on what it is like to battle a contagious ailment up, close and personal….

As a medical professional, what has this experience been like for you so far?

Firstly, thank you for the honor. It’s a big task and an overwhelming one for me, risking it all for someone else when you also have your own health challenges. At the same time, it’s a great privilege to be part of the team that is pasting smiles on faces and watching them being discharged.

How was it like for you and your colleagues when Nigeria’s first Covid-19 patient was driven into your hospital?

We were already prepared for Covid-19 before we had our index patient. SOP was already sent out, training was done and the Emergency Organization Community was set up. We were not caught unawares when we had our index patient.

How many healthcare workers are battling the coronavirus in Yaba, Lagos and what’s your shift like in there?

There are 13 doctors in total, about 30 nurses and domestic health workers ( I don’t have a specific figure). We also have our kitchen staff. We run two shifts. 8am to 4pm and 4pm to 8am.

You and other members of the team have successfully treated and discharged 39 patients at this point. What is it like after every recovery and discharge at IDH?

It’s always a happy moment for us at IDH Yaba when we discharge our Covid-19 warriors. It’s a big compensation for us knowing we are doing it right and the pain is worth it. You don’t want to imagine what it is like when you wear PPE for more than 30 minutes.

Glad you mentioned PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). We’ve seen and read stories of a shortage of PPE for healthcare workers on the frontlines even in developed countries like the UK, US and Italy.

Most of your colleagues across the world are improvising with nylon bags. Do you have adequate PPE in Lagos to battle this pandemic? Are you always well kitted?

Like I mentioned earlier, we were well prepared before we had our index patient. For now, we still have sufficient PPE but the fear of every health worker at the frontline is that the Yaba facility should not run out of PPE. Yes we are always well kitted whenever we want to have contact with patients.

Talk us through the safety precautions and protocols you and your colleagues adhere to daily….

First, you have to be mindful of your own safety as a frontliner. We always make sure we are fully kitted whenever there will be any form of interaction with our patients.

Everyone coming for Covid-19 test is a suspect until the result turns out negative or otherwise. We always maintain some distance when having conversations with anyone who has just come in for a test.

How are your colleagues dealing with this? Are you all happy to come to work the next day, knowing you are saving lives?

It’s a mixed feeling sometimes for all of us. We are separated from relatives and loved ones and there is the fear of not contracting Covid-19 as we go about our duties. But we are happy people, giving our patients psychological and emotional support.

We always look forward to each day, with the hope of discharging as many warriors as possible. We also pray for them. Our ultimate goal is to have empty wards.

What's a typical day at IDH Yaba like?

A typical day at IDH Yaba is a busy one. We have the outpatients coming for investigations and we still have our inpatients to attend to.

Are you well taken care of by the government and what would you like to see improved upon in terms of welfare for you and your colleagues?

Administratively, we have no comprehensive health insurance. There is also the issue of under-testing, not enough testing capacity and all of that.

There is also corruption to talk about, in the sense that the money allocated to senators to build health facilities in their constituencies were mismanaged before this pandemic struck. We are also poorly remunerated.

I think worldwide, salaries of health workers should be reviewed, especially in our country. If we are getting good remuneration, Nigerian doctors will not relocate abroad. Covid-19 allowance should be very attractive for healthcare workers.

The federal government should look into our remuneration and Lagos State should create time to have conversations with those of us on the frontlines about our wellbeing.

Do you have enough ventilators at the Lagos isolation center to battle this disease? Do you have enough equipment to see you through each day?

We have enough ventilators for now at IDH Yaba and we also have sufficient tools to work with. Our Governor in Lagos State (Babajide Sanwo-Olu) is working hard to ensure we don’t run out of working tools.

Do you have enough rest between shifts and given what you know now, do you think the lockdown of Lagos and other cities is a good idea?

After a night shift, you have the rest of the day to rest and resume the next day. The lockdown is a good way to help us #FlattenTheCurve but Nigerians are not taking it seriously. I still see pictures of people in traffic, a crowd of people gathering for exercises on the highways…

Gbagada joggers have been arrested and tried (Twitter: @Engr_Series)
Gbagada joggers have been arrested and tried (Twitter: @Engr_Series)

Nigerians should know that the earlier we maintain social distancing, the better for our country. South Korea had just 30 patients in their first month of Covid-19 breakout and it took the 31st patient to send the country into chaos because she was attending large gatherings and socialising.

I’m pleading with everyone to please stay at home to help us reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Do you think the 14-day lockdown declared by the federal government should be extended?

If an extension will help us #FlattenTheCurve then let us have an extension. We have no capacity to attend to a mass outbreak of Covid-19. We have started admitting patients who acquired Covid-19 from the community. Coronavirus is real, people!

Thank you for your time Doc, and we are very grateful for the insights you've shared with us and our readers. We love all of you on the frontlines and we'd be cheering you on daily until Nigeria beats coronavirus. God bless all of you.

Thank you for the opportunity. I’m grateful. I urge everyone to help us stay at home to stay alive and help us #FlattenTheCurve . Together we can beat coronavirus in Nigeria by practicing social distancing.

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